Tegla Loroupe was born in Kenya in 1973. Her father had 4 wives, and she had 24 brothers and sisters. She started school at the age of seven, running 10km (6.2 miles) in her bare feet to get to school.
She was encouraged to enter foot races by her teachers, but her father thought that racing was not for women. She persisted, and her father eventually let her pursue running when she started winning. Her next obstacle in the pursuit of her running career was the Kenyan Athletics Foundation. She was just 5 foot 1 inch tall and weighed only 88 lbs. They thought she was too frail.
When Tegla won a prestigious cross country race in 1988, running barefoot, she started getting more support, including her first pair of running shoes. However, she only raced in shoes for the toughest races.
Tegla’s ability as a runner was focused on long distances. She won two New York City Marathons. She became an idol to young women in Africa in that they had a woman champion to go with the many male long distance champion runners. During her career, Tegla set world records for 20km, 25km, 30km and the marathon distances.
When Tegla finished racing competitively, she became a United Nations Ambassador of Sport. Tegla decided to use her racing acclaim for a higher purpose when she established the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and created a series of Peace Marathons. Government leaders (Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Ambassadors) compete in a marathon with the various tribes in Kenya and other African countries where civil strife continues. Hundreds of participants have given up their weapons as they race for peace.
Her other humanitarian efforts include:
- Establishing an orphanage and school
- Working to end the violence in Darfur
- Working with other athletes on peace initiatives
- Organizing the Refugee Team for the 2016 Olympics
Those who are idolized for their achievements in one area can often use that acclaim for bettering society. Going from being told she was too fragile to compete to helping achieve peace in troubled parts of the world is a model for all those who are idolized.
Just imagine how much more our idols could do with their fame. Just imagine how sports, movies, and other aspects of our society can lead to breaking down barriers in other areas. Just imagine how much one person can achieve with their God given talent.
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In a country where only men are encouraged, one must be one’s own inspiration.”
– Tegla Loroupe
This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.